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Flèche Wallonne’18: Allez-Philippe – Youth Beats Experience!
Race Report: Julian Alaphilippe took advantage of the excellent effort from his team to finally unseat Alejandro Valverde as the King of the Mur. The Young Frenchman threw down the gauntlet, but the 'mature' Spaniard fell short by the finish line.


Huy - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Julian ALAPHILIPPE (France / Team Quick - Step Floors) pictured during La Flèche Wallonne (1.UWT) - world tour - a one day race for elite between Seraing and Huy in Belgium (198,5KM) - photo Dion Kerckhoffs/Cor Vos © 2018

It was a beautiful day for cycling and the riders came out and enjoyed it. An early break went but the action really kicked off on the first ascent of the Mur as Vincenzo Nibali forged clear with a group of five riders. They gained a minute quickly and the teams without representation were forced to chase behind. At points it looked like there was no way that the break would be brought back but they suffered on the penultimate climb and by the time they hit the Mur only Jack Haig and Michael Schachmann were left standing. Haig cracked early on but Schachmann kept going and when he was eventually caught it was another Quick-Step Floors jersey who took over as Alaphilippe came bursting through. Valverde looked like he was going to catch the young Frenchman but the Spaniard's legs ran out and he had to settle for second as he was finally unseated as the King of the Mur.

Huy - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - illustratie before the start  pictured during La Flèche Wallonne (1.UWT) - world tour - a one day race for elite between Seraing and Huy in Belgium (198,5KM) - photo Dion Kerckhoffs/Cor Vos © 2018

Route
It's tempting to say that Fleche Wallonne is all about the Mur de Huy, and frankly it probably is, but there are a host of other difficulties on this course. The race starts in Seraing, an outskirt of Liege, and finishes in Huy just a short trek to the west. The early stages of the race see the riders filter onto a loop to the south east of Seraing which takes in the climbs of Cote de la Vecquee, Cote de la Redoute, and Cote de Mont. The riders will then head towards Huy for the final three laps of the race. They hit Huy after 140.5km of racing and will have 58km left to race. That last 58km features three ascents of the Mur de Huy and two of the Cote d'Ereffe and Cote de Cherave - the latter of which comes just 4.5km before the foot of the Mur.



The Mur is consistently where this race is decided and it's easy to see why. It's 1.3km of 9.6% but that hides the fact that the first 500m are 'just' 5% before 500m of 13% and 300m of 10.3%, there's even a chunk of 19% thrown in for good measure. Due to the early easy section of the climb the top of the Mur is covered with the dreams of riders who took a flyer and looked to be taking an unlikely win before fading hard inside the final few hundred metres. The trick is to wait, and wait and wait some more before releasing your burst of speed.



Early Chancers
It wouldn't be a bike race without an early breakaway of riders without much chance of success and that was the case here. Eight riders nipped off the front after barely 30 minutes of racing, they were; Romain Hardy (Fortuneo-Samsic), Romain Combaud (Delko-Marseille Provence-KTM), Anthony Perez (Cofidis), Patrick Muller (Vital Concept Club), Cesare Benedetti (Bora-Hansgrohe), Anthony Roux (Groupama-FDJ), Kevin Van Melsen (Wanty-Groupe Goubert), Antoine Warnier (WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic). They quickly gained five minutes on the peloton but with 100km left to race as they hit the early climbs the gap was slowly being eroded and when they hit the Mur they had just over two minutes.

Huy - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - illustration - scenery - carte postal scenic shot - postcard sfeerfoto - sfeer - illustratie  pictured during La Flèche Wallonne (1.UWT) - world tour - a one day race for elite between Seraing and Huy in Belgium (198,5KM) - photo Dion Kerckhoffs/Cor Vos © 2018

It was early in the race and too early to absorb the break but the fact that they were now in sight sparked a response and soon the original break of the day were absorbed and we had a new group of leaders over the top of the first ascent of the Mur; Max Schachmann (Quick-Step Floors), Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), Jack Haig (Mitchelton-Scott) and Tanel Kangert (Astana) with Benedetti and Roux joining from the earlier break. The gap was 20 seconds as they hit the d'Ereffe which comes after the Mur. All eyes were now on Valverde and Movistar who were fully focussed on the front of the peloton. Given Valverde's recent record at Fleche, Movistar weren't getting much assistance in the chase.

Huy - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport -  Alejandro VALVERDE BELMONTE (Spain / Team Movistar) pictured during La Flèche Wallonne (1.UWT) - world tour - a one day race for elite between Seraing and Huy in Belgium (198,5KM) - photo Dion Kerckhoffs/Cor Vos © 2018

Movistar Versus The Rest
As the break hit the Mur for the second time, the break's lead had stretched out to around 35 seconds and the increased pace was beginning to hurt. Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) was the most high profile victim and he was chipped off the back as the crested the summit. Movistar were still the most visible team on the front but Dimension Data were also throwing some men into the chase as the Nibali group increased their advantage out to 45 seconds.

Huy - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - illustration - scenery - carte postal scenic shot - postcard sfeerfoto - sfeer - illustratie pictured during La Flèche Wallonne (1.UWT) - world tour - a one day race for elite between Seraing and Huy in Belgium (198,5KM) - photo Dion Kerckhoffs/Cor Vos © 2018

Martin had some team assistance to try and bring him back into the fold and his team mate Aleksandr Riabushenko put in a huge effort to get him to the back of the cards but he went pop and Martin was still not back in the fold with now just 20km left to ride. The next time check came and Martin was 35 seconds off the pack of the peloton and that was that for the Irishman.

Huy - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - NIBALI Antonio (ITA)  of Bahrain - Merida  pictured during La Flèche Wallonne (1.UWT) - world tour - a one day race for elite between Seraing and Huy in Belgium (198,5KM) - photo JdM/PN/Cor Vos © 2018

Movistar might have had some help from the Dimension Data and Lotto Soudal were also putting men into the chase but the gap to the break was going the wrong way for them, it was now 55 seconds with 17km left to ride. It was now advantage break.

Sky were the latest team to jump on the front of the peloton and with so many teams now riding the gap was starting to come down, it was now 48 seconds with 15km left to go. The gap was still coming down, just 38 seconds now, what was clear was that this was going to be no normal Fleche Wallonne, the pace had been very hard for a long time and Alejandro Valverde was now isolated. His teammate Mikel Landa was still in the group but he was falling off the back of the peloton after doing plenty of chasing. There were 12km left and the gap was 34 seconds. The work of the teams in the peloton had quickly brought the gap down but the gains were harder to come by now and the gap was falling any further.

Huy - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - illustration - scenery - carte postal scenic shot - postcard sfeerfoto - sfeer - illustratie climb Muur van Huy  pictured during La Flèche Wallonne (1.UWT) - world tour - a one day race for elite between Seraing and Huy in Belgium (198,5KM) - photo Dion Kerckhoffs/Cor Vos © 2018

The Wall
With 8km left to ride, there were still two climbs to negotiate. The first was the Cote de Cherave which topped out 5km prior to the end of the race. The gap was holding steady at 32 seconds and Vincenzo Nibali was driving the break forward as they hit the penultimate climb.

Huy - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - illustration - scenery - carte postal scenic shot - postcard sfeerfoto - sfeer - illustratie Muur van Huy climb  pictured during La Flèche Wallonne (1.UWT) - world tour - a one day race for elite between Seraing and Huy in Belgium (198,5KM) - photo JdM/PN/Cor Vos © 2018

Jack Haig was the first to push the pace on the climb and his effort succeeded in only putting Benedetti and Roux, who had been in the original break, in difficulty and there were now just four in the break. The peloton were closing quickly now and the gap was within 20 seconds as they crested the summit of the climb. Jack Haig was doing all of the work on the front of the race and his descent from the climb had cracked the gap open by a few more seconds. During the climb Emmanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) had pushed ahead and he was assisted by the returning Benedetti as they stretched out the chasers.

Huy - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Vincenzo NIBALI (Italy / Team Bahrain - Merida)  pictured during La Flèche Wallonne (1.UWT) - world tour - a one day race for elite between Seraing and Huy in Belgium (198,5KM) - photo Dion Kerckhoffs/Cor Vos © 2018

In the front Haig's work had created a split and Haig and Schachmann were the two left at the front. Nibali was a few seconds further back with Kangert even further off the pace. Benedetti was rocking and rolling on the front as he tried to haul the four leaders back.

Huy - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport -Maximilian SCHACHMANN (Germany / Team Quick - Step Floors)pictured during La Flèche Wallonne (1.UWT) - world tour - a one day race for elite between Seraing and Huy in Belgium (198,5KM) - photo Dion Kerckhoffs/Cor Vos © 2018

Haig and Schachmann were still leading but the gap was falling and Schachmann was doing absolutely zero work. Behind them, Nibali and Kangert were caught at the foot of the climb and Buchmann was the first person to have a go. He was brought back by Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors) who was soon displaced by the Lotto-Soudal team and Tiesj Benoot. The duo were within sight but Haig was suffering and Schachmann hit the front. Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) was in the best position in second wheel but they had to catch Schachmann first of all. Valverde was around fifth wheel but it was still Schachmann at the front.

Huy - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Julian ALAPHILIPPE (France / Team Quick - Step Floors) pictured during La Flèche Wallonne (1.UWT) - world tour - a one day race for elite between Seraing and Huy in Belgium (198,5KM) - photo Davy Rietbergen/Cor Vos © 2018

Julian Alaphilippe was now in prime positon as Schachmann was caught. Jelle Vanendert (Lotto Soudal) had done all the work for Wellens but he was in the lead. He was tying up though and Alaphilippe was the next man left standing. Valverde was still close by though. But Alaphilippe was holding on and as the road leveled off it was Alaphilippe who led by four or five lengths to Valverde. Valverde put in a kick at the end but although he was closing at the final corner the Spaniard didn't have the legs and Alaphilippe rode out a clear winner. He will have his German team mate Schachmann to thank who set him up for victory and Vanendert, who finished third, will be left wondering where Wellens went and what he could have done if left to ride for himself. One thing is clear, this was one of the finest Fleche Wallonnes for a long time.

Huy - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Julian ALAPHILIPPE (France / Team Quick - Step Floors) - Alejandro VALVERDE BELMONTE (Spain / Team Movistar)  pictured during La Flèche Wallonne (1.UWT) - world tour - a one day race for elite between Seraing and Huy in Belgium (198,5KM) - photo Dion Kerckhoffs/Cor Vos © 2018

Flèche Wallonne Result:
1. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors in 4:53:37
2. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar at 0:04
3. Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Lotto Soudal at 0:06
4. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Mitchelton-Scott
5. Michael Matthews (Aus) Sunweb
6. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo
7. Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto Soudal
8. Maximilian Schachmann (Ger) Quick-Step Floors
9. Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale
10. Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe at 0:12
11. Sergio Henao (Col) Sky at 0:15
12. Tom-Jelte Slagter (Ned) Dimension Data at 0:19
13. Rudy Molard (Fra) Groupama-FDJ at 0:21
14. Diego Ulissi (Ita) UAE Team Emirates at 0:25
15. Alexis Vuillermoz (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale at 0:28
16. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana
17. Serge Pauwels (Bel) Dimension Data
18. Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin at 0:30
19. Rui Costa (Por) UAE Team Emirates at 0:32
20. Robert Gesink (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo at 0:34
21. Jay McCarthy (Aus) Bora-Hansgrohe at 0:36
22. Pieter Serry (Bel) Quick-Step Floors at 0:39
23. Jesus Herrada (Spa) Cofidis
24. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors at 0:42
25. Nicolas Edet (Fra) Cofidis at 0:44.

 


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